The Early History of Porter's Bluff History
Navarro County Texas


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The Early History of Porter's Bluff
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1957
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society
By Mrs. A. G. Elliott
Extracted by Ann Marcy


This is the history of the area of Northeast Navarro County lying between Porterís Bluff, the site of the new 1958 bridge across the Trinity River, and the incorporated town of Rice.

Mrs. J. B. Fortson Sr. (nee Lyda McGee) has furnished much of the information we are recording. Some comes from her personal knowledge and experiences. We found a lot of unrecorded facts about this section that we thought we would tell them and later get more of the history of Rice, which was begun and laid off in 1872 because the railroad was being built through there.

We are telling quite a bit about our Grandfather Isaac Boone Sessions. Our family has never talked much of its achievements, but we believe he was the type of gentleman and early settler that made this section of the country one that was established on high ideals for business, education and religion. He accomplished a great deal in his 67 years.

The history of Rice is not truly told if we speak only of the mile-square, which is the incorporated town. We must get the full picture of an area 14 miles long northwest by southeast and five to seven miles wide from northeast toward southwest.

The pioneers found here the buffalo, the Indians, the native lush prairie grasses, the deer, the wild turkey, the alligator. The contour of the generally level prairies was found rolling and to have a deep, deep waxy black and wonderfully fertile soil. There was much timber such as oak, pecan, cedar along the streams that cut this area from the east, south and west. It is an area bounded on the east by the Trinity River and on the west and south by Chambers Creek, with two other tributary creeks, Grays to the east and Cummings to the west, draining the entire area finally into the Trinity River. Since these waterways often were at flood tide, they cut the area off leaving it open only toward the northwest and laid the setting of its economic development as a unit. There was the pull of the county seat town, (but) roads were expensive and hard to maintain toward the south. For many years there was more trade with the town to the north in Ellis County.

James Buckner Barry, an early Indian agent, Texas Ranger, legislator and the third, fifth and sixth sheriff of Navarro County, reported in his diary that he came to the crossing on the Trinity River in 1845. He rode on horseback from Jefferson, which he had reached sailing up the Red River through the Soda and Caddo Lakes. He crossed at the place later called Taos and Porterís Bluff. The only people Mr. Barry found there were buffalo hunters from East Texas who had made the crossing and road through the Trinity bottom to get to the prairies west of the river where there were great herds of buffalo. He wrote that there would be about 16 men under a leader. They killed the buffalo for the hides and tallow. Barry, on this trip from Jefferson, went to the Waco Village, San Antonio and Monterrey, Mexico, joining the fighting with the Texans. He started the trip in April and returned over the same route in July of the same year. He wrote that there were more buffalo between Chambers Creek and Richland Creek than in all other parts of Texas.

The pioneers of this Rice total area came from many of the Southern states. They were attracted by tales of the fertile lands, open ranges and plentiful wild game. They were told by returning travelers that land could be cultivated so easily, that in a whole days of plowing one would not strike a stump or sassafras sprout, which were the constant foes of cultivating in the southeastern states.

The Trinity River was the first artery of commerce to open on which man and merchandise was transported into Central and North Texas. In 1853, Lt. H. C. Whiting, an army engineer, informed Jefferson Davis, secretary of war during the administration of President (Franklin) Pierce, that the Trinity River was the deepest and the least obstructed river in Texas. He recommended that the government take steps to develop this waterway.

This was the condition when the beautiful prairie had not been scarred by plowing and left to the destruction of erosion. All the water that fell was retained on the vast lands by the grasses and natural growth. Underground water tables were high and fed many, many springs in the area. There was no washed-away soil, depleting the fertility of the land and filling the waterways with silt so that they could no longer be navigated without constant dredging, which was prohibitively expensive.

But the new settlers found that they could buy the land and plant cotton and often pay for the land in one year. They were, as a result, preparing the soil in a loose manner to wash into the streams and into the Gulf of Mexico. A drive over miles and miles of those areas shows the barren rocky fields with vast gashes torn through them by 75 years or more of this neglect. It is evidence that our early heritage has been thrown to the winds and waves.

Col. Robert H. Porter was given a tract of ground surrounding the early buffalo crossing on the Trinity that was spoken of by Buck Barry. It was his payment for services in the Texas Revolution. In 1848, he had a town surveyed and streets laid off by his friend and surveyor John H. Reagan, who was later a U.S. Senator. They gave it the name Taos, but it later came known as Porterís Bluff. A 20-room hotel, homes, a blacksmith shop, stores, a sawmill, wharves, boat landings, warehouses were built there. Records show that it was the most important town in Navarro County at that time. It was among towns nominated to become the capital of Texas, and lost by three votes. It was the head of navigation on the Trinity. At least 20 small steam boats, known as packets, are known to have come up to Taos, bringing coffee, sugar, furniture, and all needed supplies.

One boat in later years would carry 2,500 bales of cotton. The arrival of the steamboat with its cargo and newspapers from New Orleans was an occasion for a holiday and festival for all the people for miles around. They came on horseback, by wagon and on foot to greet the boatsí arrival and mingle with their neighbors and have picnics and other social gatherings. Some of the boats were the Scioto, Bell, Ellen, Franklin Mary Coffin (2,500 bales of cotton), Guadaloupe, Kate, Early Bird, Vesta, Bell of Texas, Saley Haynes and the Welchman which Mrs. J.B. Fortson has a picture of.

 

Isaac Boone Sessions

Isaac Boone Sessions, who has many descendants in Navarro County, came to Robertson County, later Navarro, in 1846. His mother was Margaret Poitevent and his grandmother Esther Boone of North Carolina a sister of Daniel Boone. His nearest of kin now living are his grandchildren, John Poitevent Lackey of Rice, Mrs. Lyda McGee Fortson (Mrs. J. B. Fortson of Corsicana) and Mrs. Maud Sessions Lackey Elliot (Mrs. A.G. Elliott of Corsicana).

I.B. Sessions was a native of North Carolina. He moved to Mississippi where he married and came from there to Texas with a family, slaves and chattels. He went as far as Lancaster in what is now Dallas County to select a homesite. Remembering the beauty and fertility of the area of the first high rolling prairies across the Trinity some six miles northwest of Taos, he returned and settled on a large tract of land there. His daughters used to tell that at high flood the Trinity could be seen from the grounds of their home flowing around the foothills a few miles away and looking like the sea.

He also bought woodlands in the river bottoms for timber with which to build and to furnish fire wood. He first built a cedar log house with two big rooms divided by a wide hallway or dogtrot and another room all across those at the back with a roof that slanted at right angle to the other roof. He then built quarters for the slaves. After these were completed he brought his wife (Emma Spurlin m. 1836) and children. He had seven children by that marriage. His wife later died and he married her sister (Permilia Spurlin), by whom he had one child who died. (They are buried side by side in the Old Chatfield Cemetery).

He then married Miss Rachael Minerva Hammond who was the grandmother of all the descendants now living in Navarro County. There were seven children by this marriage: Laura Sessions McGee was mother of Mrs. Fortson and Boone Sessions Lackey was the mother of Mrs. Elliott. Roxie Sessions Lackey was the mother of John Poitevent Lackey.

 

I. B. Sessions was one of the organizers of Navarro County. He served as foreman of the first grand jury in the county because he was recognized as a stalwart character of sound and considered judgment, and a man who could be relied upon to deal with the people and the problems that beset the early settlements. He was a justice of the peace at Porterís Bluff and people came frequently for as far as 30 miles around to have him perform the marriage rites. He was also a commissioner of the county for some years. His picture still hangs in the Masonic Hall at Rice, Texas as he was a charter member of the organization in that section of the county. He, with eight others, organized a textile mill near Galco. Either the flood on the Trinity or the usual fate of early manufacturing closed it.

From his land he gave a plot of ground and built a log schoolhouse, which was later to be known as the school and community of Sessions.

Mrs. (J.A.) McGee gave this description to Mrs. Fortson:

"Before the war, my half-brothers and sisters attended a little log school house with an Odd Fellows Lodge room above it. It was one and a half miles from our home and a Mr. John Ballew was the first teacher. Some of his descendants live there now. Later this house was moved to Chatfield where it was used as a school and lodge hall. The log school I attended was built after the war began in 1861 or 1862. It was built on the road between our home and Porterís Bluff and was about four miles north from Chatfield. It was one room of cedar logs about 25 feet long with a stick and dirt chimney. One log was left out on the east side of the house for light. A plank beneath this window was used as a writing desk, also as a blind to keep out wind and rain. A puncheon eat was beneath this desk. There was a plank floor and other puncheon seats, which were good and high so we could swing our feet good. (She always told this with a twinkle in her eye and we imagine it was great fun for the children and a great irritation to the teacher.) The black board was made of planks and lampblack. We used chalk rocks for crayons. We also had slates and slate pencils. We sang the geography lesson and the multiplication table every day. It was a one-teacher school, and my first teacher was a Mrs. Love who was Miss Fannie Bartlett, a sister of J.M. Bartlett, later a merchant in Rice. We carried our dinner to school; each had his bottle of milk. The boys dug holes in the sand in the draw and we buried our bottles in them to keep them cool. Hogs ranged on the open prairie and they would stay under the schoolhouse on hot days and the fleas were thick. One day the teacher dropped her riding skirt and the fleas almost covered her.

About the close of the war we began to have governesses in our home and other neighbor children attended school with us. Mrs. Laura Kerr was one of our governesses. She was the daughter of Dr. William Kerr who was an uncle of the Rev. Abe Mulkey, a famous Methodist minister and evangelist.

"Miss Eliar Trigg was another governess, and she not only taught school subjects, but expression and music, both piano and voice. She was a great favorite.

"Later five of us girls went to Chatfield to school and boarded with a Capt. Herveyís family during the week and went home over the weekend. A half-sister, Viola E. Sessions (Haynie) was sent to Corsicana to Dr. Modrallís Seminary and boarded in Dr. Modrallís home. My sisters and I attended Marvin College, a Methodist school in Waxahachie. The three older girls went at one time and the two younger went together later."

The youngest sister, Boone, was the valedictorian of her graduating class and received several medals and awards for outstanding achievements. She married a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher and was the mother of Maud Sessions Lackey Elliott (Mrs. A.G. Elliott) of Corsicana. Laura Sessions McGee was the wife of Dr. J.A. McGee who came to Rice from Kentucky when the railroad was built there and served that section the remainder of his life.

After the Civil War there was a man and his several sons who came from the North and built a number of large two-story frame houses in that area. The I. B. Sessions home was one of them, and it had a wide porch across the entire front of 50 feet in length and some 15 feet in width. His daughters often talked of having to take turns in sweeping its monstrous size. The house was painted white and had a white fence around it Ö The Hodge home in Chatfield now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Hodge was one of the homes built by the same men. Mr. Sessions and his family lived in the home until 1883 when he built another two-story white home in the town of Rice that had begun in 1872 when the H & TC (Houston and Texas Central) railroad was built there. Later, while occupied by tenants, the old home burned.

I.B. Sessions was a man of 6-feet 2-inches tall and an average weight of 135 pounds. His health was a factor in hunting homeland in the high prairies, and he was not permitted to go to war. He often said he had rather gone to fight than have the job of looking after all the women and children left at home with no one else to call on for help. During the reconstruction period, he never left home without a pistol strapped to his body, but no real trouble came. His children described him as a devoted father who had dark curly hair, blue eyes and a good baritone voice. He often led the singing for church services and other gatherings. The family spent many evenings gathered around the big square piano brought from New York, and the only one for miles around. Mrs. A. G. Elliot owns the piano now. They also had the first sewing machine.

The two youngest children were boys, and they were sent to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where they received degrees and both went to New York, one to get his medical degree and the other to become a pharmacist in Bellevue Institute. All of these children were sent directly to college from the ranch home, which was named "Fair View."

Mr. Sessions was a charter member of the Methodist Church in Chatfield, which was the nearest organized group. Brush-arbor camp meetings brought most of the people of the area together in friendly and religious gatherings. Seeing that all of his children were given the incentive to study and then sent to college, and training them in the Christian faith were said to be the dominating purposes of his life.

The sessions ranch was on the main road from New Orleans and Shreveport and most Southern States to the cattle markets in Kansas City. New settlers came through that way in large numbers after the war and were taken in for the night or allowed to camp near water. Cattlemen driving their herds toward market stopped and used some of the corrals or let their cattle feed on the range. The cowboys sometimes spread their bedrolls on the long porch. The daughters have often told that at times the cattle at night became restless and all the men, led by their father, would go out in a group and sing to quiet the herd and avoid a stampede.

Mrs. Laura Sessions McGee, mother of Mrs. Fortson, described the prairies that surrounded their home as being grazed by buffalo and later cattle. It always looked like a well-kept park. Nature still held sway, and beautiful wild flowers, including the buffalo clover (bluebonnets) came out in season.

In 1866, there was a devastating flood that washed away all of the town of Porterís Bluff. The Houston, Texas Central Railroad was already being built from Galveston toward this area and it was seen that the town could not economically reach its past glory. The railroad, like a magnet, drew the people to it. A ferry was operated there for years and a bridge was built. It served the area a long while then (was) torn away.

Now a new era is beginning for the Trinity River crossing, which once was surrounded by a thriving town off highly educated and prosperous citizens. There is a long bridge of steel and concrete being built there, which will join paved highways in East Texas to those in West Texas.

Two very, very rich homes have been built there in the last three or four years: one to the south of the highway by Mr. Tom Weaver, and one to the north of the highway by Mr. Leiser. These are witnesses that there is a great appeal by Porterís Bluff and it may one day be a great metropolis again.

Rice, which became a town in 1872, drew many of its citizens and its culture from the early inhabitants of Porterís Bluff area.

 


This Page Last Updated on 11/19/12
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